As far back as I can remember, my family has been involved in charitable giving. When I was five, Hurricane Andrew hit Miami where we lived. Our house lost power but was otherwise fine; however, my parents brought home five kids whose home had been destroyed to give their parents time to reorganize. These kids had spina bifida and Down syndrome, which was something my sisters and I had never had personal experience with. We played with them and became friends, and it gave us a whole new perspective and understanding about the meaning of philanthropy. Giving, whether financially or through volunteering, brings so much in return through learning and developing friendships.
As a family, we have adopted a constitution which requires each member to fulfill certain obligations to be able to participate in our family foundation’s giving. Among these is the requirement to do 100 days, after the age of 18, of volunteer service related to WestWind Foundation’s program areas. Since an early age, my sisters and I have been involved in charitable work through my mother’s involvement with the Boys & Girls Club and our family work with Habitat for Humanity, and we’ve always looked forward to the challenge of completing our requirement.
Since beginning my “100 days”, I have helped organize volunteers for Berkshire Serve, a community food co-op in North Adams, Massachusetts and an affiliate of Serve New England. I also worked in rural China promoting alternative energy sources for people living in poverty, and, last summer, I worked with a micro credit bank in a small community in Northern Argentina with my younger sister, Hilary. My older sister, Kristi, has been in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Colombia working in mobile clinics providing family planning services to those who need it the most. She is halfway through her 100 days and is learning what types of programs can be sustainable.
As a family, our primary focus is protecting the integrity of natural ecosystems and the health of human communities. We aim to protect the quality of life on earth for future generations by supporting organizations that protect the environment or improve access to family planning. My experience in Argentina this summer showed me how valuable effective grassroots efforts are, which is what Global Greengrants Fund focuses on through its grantmaking program worldwide. Supporting grassroots environmental groups is a cause that we believe in and Greengrants provides support to these groups in a way that maximizes benefit at a low cost. It is at this grassroots level that it is possible to create the type of compassion that galvanizes support for important causes. My family knows that we’re making a difference when we contribute to Greengrants, and we really appreciate the opportunity to learn from their grassroots grantee partners and advisors.
As we enter the holiday season, I am thankful for the opportunities I’ve had to volunteer for incredible causes around the world and the emphasis my family has placed on philanthropy throughout my life. It is this sense of connection to the greater world that is helping me find my own path in life.
George and the Miller Family, WestWind Foundation